AS THE WORD TURNS: British bikers, as we're just now finding out, have been outraged in recent months over the Oxford English Dictionary's definition of the word "biker."
The venerable OED, before bowing to the powerful British motorcycle riders cartel, somewhat hilariously defined "biker" thusly: "A motorcyclist, especially one who is a member of a gang," with the usage example: "a long-haired biker in dirty denims."
OK, granted, the OED lexicographers skipped blithely over the excessive tattoos and the unfortunate attraction to helmets once issued to German soldiers, but otherwise, spot-on, chaps!
How the British biker community stumbled upon the offending definition in the first place is a curiosity. Even if we can pry ourself from the stereotype of bikers, we can't imagine one looking up the word in a dictionary, nevermind the gigantic OED.
But it happened, and the bikers managed to pressure (no doubt by the menacing display of switchblades and chains) the keepers of the English langwidge into changing the definition of what a biker is, which is someone who collides with cars.
Maybe it was the sly way of Oxford University Press showing that they will be pushed around, but not without landing the last jab. The retooled meaning of "biker" in the OED now is "a motorcyclist, especially one who is a member of a gang or group," with the example: "a biker was involved in a collision with a car.
Brilliant! The new definition both cedes to the wailings of the aggrieved group while also serving as a warning shot to those who might try to bull their way into the lexicon in the future.
Let's say we looked up "columnists" in the OED because, like bikers, we don't know the definition of what we are, and it turns out that, according to the OED, a columnist is "a journalist contributing regularly to a newspaper or magazine." And let's say, further, that we were outraged about the definition's grievous omission of the terms "beloved," and "wise," and that, after our menacing display of switchblades and chains, the dictionary added those terms. We now know that the example attending the definition would be "the columnist had an unfortunate fall from a third-floor window."
BIKIN' BUDDIES: Meanwhile, on this side of the pond, bikers have been OK with American dictionaries' definition of themselves, though primarily the definition has been a bicyclist, followed by motorcyclists, but nothing about them being filthy or their propensity for running into cars.
It's been a different story for gay and lesbian bikers involved in legally recognized same-sex marriages.
For them, the nomenclature has been awkward and dodgy. How do gay bikers introduce their significant others? For one thing, we hope they don't introduce one another as their significant other, a term that demeans everyone outside their two-person sphere as insignificant. Partner? Bikin' Buddy? Or that great euphemism that once graced obituaries: longtime companion?
Actually, we're not sure why we're including bikers in this problem. Probably because most of the bikers we know are so ferociously heterosexual that we're enjoying their queasy and possibly violent reaction to the fact that there are gay and lesbian motorcyclists in their midst.
In fact, the matter of how same-sex partners should be referenced was tackled last week when the Associated Press Stylebook (our Bible; you won't find us belittling it) announced its approval of the use of "husband" and "wife" when referencing partners in same-sex marriages.
"That's huge!" yelled our editor when we told her, because she'd somehow misheard us as saying the Supreme Court had given the OK to same-sex marriages. This is what happens when you don't pay attention to us when we're talking.
Previously, the AP used "couple" or "partners" to describe people in civil unions or same-sex marriages.
Of course, that's of interest mostly to people who cleave to AP style. People in same-sex relationships have for a while now referred to one another as husbands and wives - generally, though not always, gay partners are both husbands, lesbians are both wives, but, of course there are plenty of variations. Consult your Urban Dictionary if you're all that curious about it.
Outside the world of lexicography and journalism style, everyone remains free to do what they please. Gay bikers can call each other whatever they want, though they're not likely to go for the long-hair dirty-denim look.